Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Sometimes walking along the edge of a lake, you’ll find yourself on a shelf of earth, gravel, or even rocks that would normally be underwater if the lake were at its full capacity.  This shelf can be very narrow or several feet wide depending on the particular topography of that body of water.  The actual bank of the lake can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet above the level on which you are standing.

While fishing from one of these narrow shelves, my father placed his fishing basket on the three foot embankment behind him.  The basket contained his first catch of the day and caught the attention of a nearby, but undetected, raccoon.

It wasn’t long before the adorable little bandit made his move.  Fortunately, the burglar made enough noise during his heist to arouse my father’s attention and who then began yelling and scrambling up over the embankment to stop the would-be thief.  The basket proved to be too much for the coon to carry while trying to escape and my father was able to keep his catch.

Raccoons are adorable and can be cuddly, friendly little creatures that have adapted to suburban life quite well.  Cute as they are though, more often than not, they are not welcome visitors as their propensity to raid trash cans under the cover of darkness results in a trash strewn lawn revealed in the light of day.  The angry homeowner then goes about the task of cleaning up the mess with animosity toward the no longer cute or lovable raccoon.  The homeowner decides something must be done to rid the raccoon from the area.

Now, from the raccoon’s perspective, he did nothing wrong.  He simply was following the basic instincts for survival with which he was born.  All animals will reside near and repeatedly frequent areas that provide a ready supply of food.  The raccoon is indifferent about scattering trash over the homeowner’s property.  He does not care if or when the homeowner cleans up the mess.  The raccoon simply is uncaring about the distress his behavior causes the home-owner and he is oblivious to the visual eyesore he creates.  He does not care about homeowner association rules or in general any rules regarding trash containment; the rules simply do not apply to him.  He is a true scavenging scofflaw.

There’s been a lot of discussion this past week among my fellow hikers concerning the amounts of trash found along the trails they have hiked including the Appalachian Trail.  Inevitably the principles of Leave No Trace arise during these discussions as well as the numerous examples of witnessed violations of those same principles.  The principles of Leave No Trace technically began in the 1960s but the national education program wasn’t developed until the 1990s.  As with all behavior modification programs, it takes time for those new ideas and habits to be adopted and put into practice. 

However, I guess that there are very few persons today who have not at least heard of the Leave No Trace principles and certainly with the pro-environmental education being taught in the public school system, even without the details of LNT, I doubt there is anyone under the age of 40 who hasn’t been exposed to at least the basic concepts of minimalizing human impact on the environment. 

While I understand the objections to some of the specifics in the LNT principles and I will admit that I have not always adhered to all the LNT rules myself, I am a firm believer in and have always practiced a policy of not trashing out the great outdoors.  How long would it remain great otherwise?
The Appalachian Trail is maintained through a cooperative effort of over 6,800 volunteers through over 31 trail-maintaining organizations, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy with members from all 50 states and over 15 other countries.  The A.T. transverses 6 national parks and 14 states with volunteers clocking more than 220,000 hours each year to maintain, clean and repair the trail and its facilities.  I certainly am appreciative of all their labors and will reap the benefit of their efforts next year along with 2-3 million others who will set foot on some portion of the A.T.  Along with the efforts these volunteers give, we each have a responsibility to do our part to keep the trail in great shape. 
I believe there are many who take their environmental concerns to an extreme level and end up worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.  I respectfully may disagree with their views, but whether one believes in evolution, or Mother Earth, or Buddhism, one thing we all agree on is that we have a responsibility to care for our environment.  I personally see the beauty of this earth as one of God’s greatest gifts to his children and it should be cherished and cared for as any gift of love would be.

One of the things that sets us apart and above the animals on this planet is our ability to try to understand the purpose of life and to ponder life beyond daily survival.  We have the capability to plan, reason and realize that what we do today can have an impact on the generations that follow.  This is one the reasons that the National Park Service was created –

             “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife
            therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and
            by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future
            generations.”                                                   (From The Organic Act of 1916)

 I’ve done my share of picking up trash after raiding raccoons have visited.  While this task may be annoying and messy to perform, it pales in comparison to the frustration of cleaning up after supposedly intelligent two-legged animals who just blatantly refuse to obey the rules, who have no regard for others and no appreciation for the wonderful world around them.

We, as citizens of this great United States, are the care-takers, the homeowners, if you will, of some of the greatest landscapes in the world.  Just as the homeowner develops an animosity toward his midnight marauder and begins to plan for his removal, if those who clean up after these trail-trashing animals, as our homeowner representatives, decide they have had enough and the trail’s survival is in jeopardy, then the time may come when removal will be required for the protection of this nation’s asset.  If this should ever happen, then we all lose. 

So please, whether you are a day visitor, a section or thru-hiker, consider your place in the hierarchy of this world and consider your responsibilities to the environment, your fellow citizens and future generations.  Although a thru-hike involves many aspects of primitive living, and you may smell like an animal for lack of bathing, you don’t have to prove you are one with a nonchalant and irresponsible attitude toward the trail and your fellow hikers.


 **Photo courtesy of www.markwpeacock.com